Sunday, July 28, 2013

For Lovers of History

I am very happy to report that one of my favorite blogs has come back to life after having gone silent for a long period. Georgian London is a treasure trove of great articles dealing with life in 18th and early 19th century London. And for those partial to military history someone has kindly uploaded the entire series "Soviet Storm" onto YouTube. This 18 part TV series was produced in modern Russia and deals with the Eastern Front of the Second World War. This theater of the war has often been given short shrift by American historians especially during the Cold War period.

The series is extremely detailed, well narrated (in English though the maps are mostly in Cyrillic) and remarkably frank in its discussion of the shortcomings and failures of the Soviet Army especially early in the war. It also does not shrink from noting Stalin's ruthlessness and his habit of shooting underperforming generals. Though it does gloss over some of the more embarrassing details like Stalin's near breakdown in the first days of the war and the fact that on at least two occasions he sent feelers to Germany suggesting peace on terms that would have been very advantageous to the Nazis had  Hitler possessed more sense than a houseplant. Likewise Soviet war crimes are barely mentioned. But moving beyond these details the series has so far (I am about half way through it) really impressed me.

Those with a decent command of history will of course know that unlike in the Pacific, in the European theater of the war the principal actors were Germany and the USSR. The United States and Britain were mainly supporting actors in that part of the great drama. Considering the losses suffered by the Red Army one would be more than justified in asking if we could have won the war had Hitler not made the fatal mistake of invading Russia, and brutalizing its population as he rolled towards Moscow.

My own view is that it's exceedingly unlikely we could have dislodged the German Army from Europe on our own. The Soviets suffered no less than 20 million killed in their Great Patriotic War, and the actual number is likely closer to 25 million. Would America have been willing to suffer such losses on behalf of people on another continent, fighting against an enemy who had not actually invaded us? I seriously doubt it.

Of course based on what we know of Hitler's character and his megalomania it seems likely that even had we stayed out and let Britain go down, we would have ended up fighting Hitler at some point. He just wasn't the sort of guy who handled the stress of peace well.


Owen White said...

I cannot more highly recommend this reassessment of Stalin as military leader:

John (Ad Orientem) said...

I think Stalin as a war leader has been badly underrated by Western historians. This again seems likely to be a byproduct of the Cold War. He was a very shrewd man who combined a tenacity with utter ruthlessness that was essential to the USSR winning the war.

Stalin and Hitler are inevitably compared. But aside from the fact that they were both totalitarian dictators and mass murderers there is little resemblance. Hitler was probably unbalanced on a certain level and was almost certainly barking mad by the end of the war. But Stalin was the ultimate realist. He may have been wrong from time to time, but there was not a delusional bone in his body. Stalin was simply a sociopath. He was devoid of anything most people would call a conscience. Which when combined with his shrewd (and sometimes slightly paranoid) nature made him an extremely competent wartime leaders, as well as one of the greatest mass murderers in history.

A brilliantly competent dictator - wartime leader and utterly evil; Stalin gets my vote as the most fascinating leader of the Second World War.